Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

28 March 2011

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

28 March 2011
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everybody.

**Secretary-General’s Briefing to General Assembly

The Secretary-General will speak to the Member States at 3 this afternoon in an informal plenary of the General Assembly to discuss, among other things, his recent travels to Egypt and Tunisia, and his diplomatic efforts concerning Libya.

He will tell the Member States that, despite repeated claims by the Libyan authorities, we continue to see no evidence of a ceasefire, nor any steps by the Libyan authorities to fulfil their obligations under resolutions 1970 (2011) and 1973 (2011).  We continue to have serious concerns about the protection of civilians and respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, and we continue to stress the urgent need for humanitarian access.

**Security Council

And also at 3 this afternoon, the Security Council will receive an update on the implementation of resolution 1970 (2011), concerning sanctions on Libya’s leadership, and that is by the Chairperson of that Committee, Ambassador [José Felipe Moraes] Cabral of Portugal.  That will happen in an open meeting followed by consultations.


Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, expressed serious concern today about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen.  She urged those involved to refrain from excessive violence and ensure the safety of the civilian population.  Ms. Amos says that the recent fighting has affected hundreds of people who have not recovered from earlier conflict.

In addition, the country is facing acute water and food shortages.  Some 31.5 per cent of the population is food insecure, and approximately 12 per cent, or 2.7 million people, are severely food insecure, at a time when food prices, including that of wheat, have increased significantly.  We have a press release with more details.


The UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, called on Syria on Saturday to avoid any violent repression of peaceful protest, which she said could risk creating “a downwards spiral of anger, violence, killings and chaos”.

Ms. Pillay said the violent repression of protests last week by security forces was particularly disturbing.  The High Commissioner cited reports of dozens of killings over the past week, including of at least two children.  Ms. Pillay condemned the use of live ammunition against unarmed protestors.

While welcoming the Government’s announcement on Thursday of an investigation into the earlier killings, she reiterated that any investigation must be independent, impartial, transparent and effective.  We have her press release available in my office, and it is also online.

**Côte d’Ivoire

The UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) reports that the situation in Abidjan remains volatile.  Patrols from the UN mission, conducted last Friday and Saturday, confirmed the use of mortars and heavy machine guns in the city’s Abobo neighbourhood by pro-Gbagbo forces.  Elsewhere in the city, there have been numerous instances where UN vehicles and staff have been targeted.  A UN-marked bus was damaged by stone-throwing demonstrators on Sunday.


The UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) says that a UN-led fact-finding mission to North Darfur found five villages almost entirely deserted of people.  The villages lie within 15 to 30 kilometres of Shangil Tobaya, the regional hub.  At least two of them had been completely abandoned.

The mission says residents of the five villages were among the 70,000 people displaced by fighting between Government and rebel forces earlier this month.  The fact-finding team also observed numerous remnants of explosions.  It plans to return to the area for further investigations in the coming days.

**Press Conferences

At 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will a press conference to launch a new report of the International Labour Organization (ILO) entitled Growth, Employment and Decent Work in the Least Developed Countries.  The speakers, here in this auditorium, will include Jose Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, the Executive Director of the Employment Sector of the International Labour Organization.

And then at approximately 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference with Michael Williams, who is the Special Coordinator for Lebanon, and that will be following his briefing to the Security Council.

So, that’s what I have.  I am happy to take questions.  Yes, Masood and then Tim?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  There are reports about Yemen that there are 100 people killed and 24 people killed, and then an ammunition factory over there.  Does the United Nations have any unconfirmed reports for that?  I know Ms. Amos has been following the situation, on which she issued a statement.  Do you have any verified information on that?

Spokesperson:  I don’t at the moment.  But we’ll check further.  I don’t have any confirmation at the moment.  We’ve certainly seen the reports.

Question:  I just want to be clear again; this ceasefire that the Security Council has issued for people in Libya, does it apply to all the parties over there?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am not quite sure…

Question:  Besides the Libyan Government of Muammar Qadhafi, does it apply to the rebel forces also?

Spokesperson:  A ceasefire means ceasing fire.  It means stopping the violence.

Question:  Are you going to see if the rebels are also abiding by the UN resolution?

Spokesperson:  The whole point of the exercise is to stop the violence and protect civilians.  That’s what the resolution was introduced for, and that’s what the aim of the resolution is.

Question:  All sides, but it seems that neither the rebels nor the Government forces are stopping…

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, it is about stopping violence.  Yes, Tim?

Question:  On Côte d’Ivoire, is it… well, can you say… is the United Nations investigating the reported leak of sensitive security details?

Spokesperson:  Yes, it is.  Yeah.

Question:  Here and in Abidjan or…?

Spokesperson:  It’s certainly looking into this and investigating this.  That’s as much as I have at the moment.  But obviously we take this seriously.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask some things about Libya then some other things.  But on Libya, first I wanted to know, can you… has Kuwait written a letter to the Council under resolution 1973 (2011)?  And also, there are supposedly some notes verbale that went in and I wanted to know what… if you can confirm one from Belarus and Senegal, and describe what they concerned.

Spokesperson:  As you know, when we have had notifications that have gone through to the Council, then we have been advising you.  I don’t have any update beyond the numbers that the Secretary-General used.  And I know that the question was posed during the briefing on Friday; we don’t have any further update on notifications since then.

Question:  And do you know, this thing on Ukraine, because you’ve been the one to announce Ukraine and then take it off, could we, just for the purposes of transparency, understand why it was on and then off?

Spokesperson:  Well, we did go through this a number of times, and I know it was raised again here on Friday.  So, I don’t think we need to…

Question:  But we didn’t really get to why did it go on and then come out.

Spokesperson:  Well, as I mentioned to you before, there are different kinds of notification under the terms of the resolution.  Some are relating to military action and others not.  And so I think it needs to be seen in that context, as well.  And if there are further updates, then obviously we will make sure that the people have those.

Question:  And just also on Libya, on the Envoy, Mr. [Abdul Ilah] Khatib, I wanted to know a couple of things.  I have been told that there is an OLA [Office for Legal Affairs] ruling that he cannot receive funds from Jordan and as a full-time Envoy at the same time.  I wanted you to either confirm or deny that.  And also that he has requested to work out of Amman, and has requested the use of private planes only.

Spokesperson:  As I have said to you, and as Farhan [Haq] said to you on Friday, there are some details that are still being worked out with regard to the contract, as Farhan mentioned to you on Friday.  I don’t have anything to add to that at the moment.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Martin, yesterday, Human Rights Watch warned that 160 people disappeared in Saudi Arabia, maybe arrested because they took part in demonstrations.  Are there any contacts with Saudi Arabia to release the detained and to allow people to demonstrate to express their opinions?

Spokesperson:  I’d have to check with our colleagues from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights whether there has been any contact through that channel.  The freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are universal human rights.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On these reports of the leak of radiation in Japan into the waters; are there any IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors who are verifying these reports and how much radiation is going into the water?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any specific technical updates for you.  I would refer you to the International Atomic Energy Agency specifically.  They do have a team in Japan that is helping to monitor radiation; that is certainly the case.  They are obviously working with and alongside their counterparts from the Japanese authorities who deal with that matter.  And I am sure they are also liaising with the operating company that operates the plant there.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Is there any concern regarding use of depleted uranium in Libya in the Tomahawks and other equipment, in the weapons used there?

Spokesperson:  That’s really a question for national authorities on their weaponry.  I don’t have any details on that.  Yes, Tim?

Question:  Is the United Nations concerned about such use of depleted uranium?

Spokesperson:  As I say, I don’t have any information on the weaponry and what it consists of.  Yes, Tim?

Question:  On Côte d’Ivoire, is there suspicion that the information was passed to the [Laurent] Gbagbo camp?

Spokesperson:  If it is under investigation, then I don’t think we would venture into what is suspected and so on.  It is being investigated.  And as I say, it is something that is taken seriously.  Yes, Matthew, yeah?

Question:  Sure, sure, I wanted to follow up on Côte d'Ivoire, and then something on Darfur and Sri Lanka.  On Côte d'Ivoire, I heard your update on Abidjan, but there are obviously now claims by the pro-Ouattara forces that they have taken the town of Duékoué and Guiglo, and so I just wonder, what’s… first of all, can you confirm this change of control of these towns, and two, what’s UNOCI… I guess it’s similar to the Libya question, is UNOCI calling for the, quote, rebel forces to not be, quote, taking towns or is this something that, in the UN view, is okay, not to be reported here?

Spokesperson:  Well, the mission reports fresh fighting in Duékoué today, where the FRCI [Republican Forces of Côte d'Ivoire] forces continue to push east.  I understand from the mission that local people have gathered at the mission premises there, seeking protection.  That’s what I have for you on that.  Yes, Richard?

Question:  Two brief things.  With the [United States] President very close to the grounds tomorrow, will the Secretary-General request a brief meeting with him, especially in light of his address to the American people tonight?  And I have a brief unrelated question after that.

Spokesperson:  Sure.  I do not believe that the Secretary-General will be meeting President [Barack] Obama when he is in the vicinity tomorrow.

Question:  The second item, half-question, half-comment, in-house, for the broadcasters and perhaps others as part of the “Honour Earth Day”, dark in the UN Saturday night; personnel came into our studios, played with the delicate window items, backgrounds, crunching things that appear on TV.  No warning, no recognition of what they were touching — when the room is dark, anyway.  I assume this might have been for a large photo op of the building, which has occurred before.  I wonder how much that cost to do this; why it is necessary?

Spokesperson:  I’ll have to look into that, I am not aware of it.  Thanks for bringing it to my attention.  Yes, Matthew?

[The Spokesperson later said that the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit was following up on the issue with the United Nations press corps.]

Question:  I have just one kind of follow-up on that.  I actually, the building here was darkened, but for example, the Albano Building wasn’t darkened at all and it didn’t appear that the furniture… the… excuse, Luggage Building was.  So, I just wonder, obviously there was… much was made of the darkening of the largely empty Secretariat Building, but was any memo sent out to other nearby UN facilities to turn off the lights?

Spokesperson:  Let me find out.

Question:  Okay.  And this is more, more out in the world.  In Darfur, there is this report that the Sudanese Government has denied visas to Ugandan police/peacekeepers for UNAMID.  Is that something you can… They have had to extend the existing Ugandans because they don’t… Sudan says they only want Arabic-speaking police, apparently.  Is that something that UNAMID can confirm?

Spokesperson:  I am aware of the report, and I think I should be able to come back to you on that.  But, I am certainly aware of the report that you are mentioning.

Question:  Okay.  And also, I have asked UNAMID, but maybe if you can add some pressure to them, this idea of denials of access, they’re supposed to keep statistics of it, but some are saying that they haven’t said anything since January on… since that… there was a Security Council meeting they made one report but there has been… whether it is possible to just find out whether they have been denied access and freedom of movement in February or March.

Spokesperson:  Sure. 

Question:  And then just… this is… you may have an answer to this or not, over the… I guess either Friday or the weekend, President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka sat down with journalists and said he is not, quote, worried about the UN report because it will be kept confidential, that the panel could come to Sri Lanka, but couldn’t investigate anything.  Meanwhile, the Vice-President of South Africa, in a formal address to and Q and A with the Parliament, said that he understands that the panel, Ban Ki-moon’s panel, met with the Sri Lankans here in March.  So, it’s sort of… they are all kind of related questions, but which, what’s up with the report?  Is it going to… does the President of Sri Lanka know in advance of us that it will be withheld?  And did, in fact, simply because it has been said in South Africa, did the panel meet that day, that mysterious day, or some other day in March with Sri Lankan officials?

Spokesperson:  Well, as we have said before, no date has been yet scheduled for when the report will be presented.  And what happens after that will be decided by the Secretary-General.

Question:  But it hasn’t been decided yet, but the President of Sri Lanka seems have had a lot of assurance that it won’t be any problem to him and it will never be released.

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, I think it’s for the Secretary-General to decide and pronounce on that.  Yeah, okay, thank you very much.  Thanks, good afternoon.  Thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.